Business ordinance violation fine increasing tenfold

Monday, July 21, 2008 | 11:39 p.m. CDT; updated 4:53 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Businesses that violate the city’s business license ordinance will now face a fine up to 10 times more expensive. The City Council amended the ordinance at its meeting Monday night to include the higher fine, eliminate a fee for some businesses and clean up the ordinance’s language.

The city’s law department saw the need for the update as it worked through problems with Athena night club, city attorney Fred Boeckmann said. Police were frequently called to the downtown night club, often in response to violence.

After the ordinance change, the maximum fine for a violation of the business license ordinance increased from $100 to $1,000. The “normal” fine for violating other city ordinances is $500, and $1,000 “seemed like a reasonable amount,” Boeckmann said.

Boeckmann said the main change for some business owners will be not having to pay a performance bond, a $1,000 fee used by the city to reimburse customers if the business committed fraud.

At the meeting, Boeckmann explained that the bond had never been used in Columbia and is a nuisance for both businesses and the licensing office.

The business license ordinance was also changed to reflect the status quo; the amendment added language allowing police to investigate licensing ordinances and request search warrants without being asked to by the city’s business service administrator.

“Mostly, it’s not the business license administrator calling the police and asking them to go to a business because there’s been gunshots,” Boeckmann said. Typically, the police send reports to the business administrator to take a look at, Boeckmann said.

Boeckmann clarified in the meeting that although the amendment added language requiring businesses to not be a nuisance to the city, it is separate from a chronic nuisance ordinance.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser and others among the council have lobbied for such an ordinance and were concerned that this amendment wouldn’t address the need for a more specific nuisance ordinance.

The amendment also removes 17 references to “he” and “his,” replacing them with gender-neutral terms.

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